Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Monopoly isn't just a board game

The post before last was one that I seem to have made before and is in effect, a laundry list of my political aspirations for the government of Hong Kong. There was one item though that was new and as I've thought about it over the last week or so I've decided that it might just be the best idea that I've ever had. So after some thought I am going to take some time on this rainy afternoon to flesh out that idea a little more fully.

The major issue that I have with Hong Kong is that the city is really run by a group of monopolies in the construction, banking and shipping industries. These monopolies use their power and influence to maintain outrageously high real estate values, incredible bank fees, and huge profit margins in their businesses at the expense of everybody else. Let me be frank, they have a right to make all the money they can. I am not begrudging them the fact that they are filthy-rich. I don't want what is theirs. But, the wealthy do, I believe have a duty and responsibility to those less well off, those whom they employ and to the greater society at large. Hong Kong businesses fail almost all of these areas. They expect employees to work too many hours for too little pay and don't care how how much their inhumane practices cost the greater society.

While not much of a defense big business can say it isn't just them. The small business here are just as abusive as the large. The work harder, longer, be more loyal to the company, don't grumble about your low pay and be grateful you've got a job culture has infected all levels of the society and it is very often true that the boss works as many hours as the employees. It still doesn't make it right; especially since often time the reason they must do this is because they have to pay confiscatory rents and fees. I realize that I am making a moral argument from what could be called a Western perspective that ignores Chinese culture; I don't care. (That doesn't mean I'm ready to adopt a 32 hour work week like France either!) Employers here do not value their employee's as humans. I think it was Voltaire who said, in reference to military service, that: "You cannot ask a man die for a few pence a day, to inspire loyalty you must electrify his soul." It appears to me that the same is true of a career. Companies cannot succeed by constantly hiring the lowest paid workers, working them to death and then training new workers. They will eventually run out of people who can or are willing to work in such conditions. Those that do work for you cannot be depended upon to produce a quality product. What that means is that the prosperity experienced in Hong Kong is, I believe essentially unsustainable, especially given the very low birth rate here because as soon as anyone can leave here they will. I can't say that I blame them.

But minimum wage and working condition laws will only go so far in redressing this problem. If, and I seriously doubt this would ever happen, Li Kai-Shing and the other tycoons suddenly all get religion and decide that they need to treat their employees as at least animals rather than machines or slaves and Wellcome and Park&Shop stop colluding and the construction companies start selling flats by the actual size and all of the other private issues that oppress the poor in Hong Kong went away the central issue, the biggest monopoly of them all would still exist. That monopoly is that the government owns every square millimeter of the land and sea in Hong Kong. Because of this Hong Kong will never be a free society.

I do not care if we have universal suffrage, a zero percent tax rate free, beer, cigars and cocaine for everyone over the age of twelve. You are not free if you have no right to property because without property you live here only at the government's whim. More to the point, because the government owns all the land and controls the population's use of it to maintain the extravagant and excessive pay scale of the THBT, Permanent Secretaries, Executive Secretaries, Adjunct Secretaries, Under Secretaries, Associate Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Special Secretaries, Temporary Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries to the Assistant Under Secretaries and the rest of the loafers , weasels and French cuff wearing Catamites pretending to be civil servants enjoy there will always be a rather large underclass in Hong Kong because it will always be expensive to live here because it cost a lot to support the over paid, under worked government.

In a perfect world the Mandarins of all flavors, genders, aftershaves and hair-dyes would voluntarily lower their pay and benefits out of shame and embarrassment over the cost to the poor that their lifestyles perpetuate. Indeed, they are worse than the worst of the tycoons. At least Li Ki Shing employees people. At least Park&Shop does sell groceries, the government here produces next to nothing except hot air, helps almost no one and yet takes up a huge percentage of the GDP. But, the Mandarins have no shame and the world isn't perfect. Therefore, the best that we could possibly hope for is to provide them some competition.

It is simply pathetic to see candidate after candidate for legco offering the same worthless, and ultimately unsustainable solutions to the social problems here. Subsidies, and welfare payments simply will not solve the issue of livability in Hong Kong. Giving the poor free money only starts an inflationary cycle in which everybody loses. Stupid. But then what do you expect from HKU graduates?

That is why, for the good of Hong Kong and its continued survival as "Asia's World City" I am advocating that Hong Kong and Shenzhen negotiate a "Free Trade agreement that includes open borders. The flat that cost 3.5 million in Hong Kong cost about 800K in Shenzhen. How many people in Hong Kong would be better off with a mortgage of 800K than 3.5mil? The reason the poor and middle classes can't live in Shenzhen now is that it is so troublesome to cross the border. If we were to remove the border check points then Shenzhen would effectively become a suburb of Hong Kong where the middle and working classes could pursue life, liberty and the latest variety of dim sum.

If the middle classes and working classes could live in Shenzhen they'd not need government subsidies for housing. This would free up government funds to help the truly needy. This would also cause the price of real estate in Hong Kong to plummet but that is where the government, which has squirreled away trillions in property taxes over the years could offer a ONE TIME bail out because after all it was the government that caused the problem.

But then, low and behold it suddenly it becomes more affordable to live and do business here in Hong Kong Kong. Suddenly factories can operate here because rents are lower. Suddenly taxes are collected on industry again. Suddenly 53% of the population don't live in government housing and a large number of Mandarins can be laid off because the Housing Authority can shrink.

The cartels that run Hong Kong have a presence in Shenzhen but they don't run the place. That means that banking services would be cheaper and better through competition.

That means that Wellcome and Park&Shop would have to compete with Carrefour and Wal-Mart and the price of food would come down because the property cartels that own the big supermarkets here could no longer keep the competition out by charging them excessive rent.

It means that land currently used as a no-mans-land to keep people from walking from there to here or here to there would be available for development as residential, commercial or recreational venues.

It would mean that Hong Kong would have to adopt a tax system and a municipal pay scale that could be supported by the population and that is more in line with other cities world wide.

It would mean that the Hong Kong government would have to really look at ways of improving services and controlling cost rather than build "Iconic buildings" on the old site of the old police barracks.

It would also mean that the government of Shenzhen would have to become more open, honest and accountable. That it would have to live up to the same level of freedom and rule of law that Hong Kong does. Since those ideas are things that are already in the Chinese constitution it should be possible and probably not too difficult.

Would a free trade agreement between Hong Kong and Shenzhen solve all of the social problems problems in Hong Kong? No, of course not, but is is a better place to start than anything being suggested by any political party in Hong Kong.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who should have Donald Tsang's (THBT) job or at least be in legco

1 comment:

Paul said...

But to open the border would mean a much larger infrastructure to handle the number of people crossing everyday.

Actually, a massive upgrade would be needed.

Do you think Hong Kong has the right to encourage people to live in Shenzhen?

The people on that side of the border make those decisions, and would it be in their interest?

They already decide who can come here via the individual travel scheme. Side trips to Macau are being rationed now as well.

I heard a story recently about school children crossing the border everyday to come to school in the SAR. A time consuming process, and only a certain number of buses are allowed in the closed area at a time.

They live in Shenzhen. Why do they come to school in Hong Kong? Who's taxes are paying for that?

The government often talks about the user pays priciple. Why is there an airport tax, but no departure tax at the land crossings?

Hong Kong is Hong Kong
Shenzhen is Shenzhen

Who kmows where we will be in the 39 years to go before 2047?

If I lived in Shenzen, could I access your blog on the Internet? Would I still be able to check out news on the BBC web site?

Can I post my comments on web sites without them being censored?

Could I wear my range of t-shirts that have all sorts of vaguely political slogans on them?

Can I openly ask my neighbours about what happened in Beijing in 1989, and why their kids have no idea about it?

Will the customs officers confiscate my bibles and all the magazines I bring in with me?

Can I ask why the mainland Olympic medalists are forced as a group to go to Hong Kong to perform in an embarrasing dog and pony show?

Can I trust my building management and security guards?

Hong Kong has many faults, but I wouldn't want to live in Shenzhen.